On the verge of join­ing the Atomic En­ergy Com­mis­sion, fa­ther’s death changed the course of Vinod Vaish’s life and brought him into civil ser­vices

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IT was a house and fam­ily com­mit­ments that more or less brought Vinod Vaish into civil ser­vices. Son of Ni­hal Chand Vaish, a Bar­ris­ter at Al­la­habad High Court, Vinod was in­ter­ested in sci­ence and was sup­posed to join Atomic En­ergy Com­mis­sion (AEC) as a sci­en­tist at Trom­bay af­ter com­ple­tion of his ed­u­ca­tion. “Raja Ra­manna, then head of the Atomic En­ergy Com­mis­sion, vis­ited Al­la­habad Univer­sity in 1961 when I was study­ing in BSc. I was se­lected for a schol­ar­ship and sup­posed to join as a sci­en­tist. The depart­ment had even asked me to sign a bond,” Vinod rec­ol­lects, sit­ting in his draw­ing room. House was the fac­tor that fi­nally kept him away from join­ing the AEC. His fa­ther had passed away when Vinod was only 14 years old, leav­ing him to fend for his mother. The house they lived in was on rent and the land­lord filed a case in 1964 seek­ing its im­me­di­ate va­ca­tion. “Mother was de­pen­dent on me. I needed to take her and my un­mar­ried sis­ter along. When I checked with AEC, it said no ac­com­mo­da­tion was avail­able. I would have spent the salary (`400) in pay­ing rent in Mumbai. There­fore, I ex­pressed my in­abil­ity to join and, luck­ily, I was re­leased from the bond,” he rem­i­nisces. Num­ber of his friends had ap­peared and qual­i­fied for the civil ser­vices. Vinod felt civil ser­vices was the most ‘trans­par­ent and fair op­por­tu­nity’ avail­able at that time for a ‘dig­ni­fied em­ploy­ment’. A sup­port­ive sys­tem ex­isted in Al­la­habad for it. “Se­nior peo­ple were will­ing to guide. Books and lit­er­a­ture was eas­ily avail­able,” he re­mem­bers. More­over, pri­vate sec­tor was ‘messy and cum­ber­some’ and re­quired a can­di­date to have the right con­tacts to join. His sis­ter got mar­ried in 1965 and, in the same year, he ap­peared for the Union Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion (UPSC) ex­am­i­na­tion and qual­i­fied for the IAS. He joined Lal Ba­hadur Shas­tri Na­tional Academy of Ad­min­is­tra­tion (LBSNAA) in Mus­soorie on July 2, 1966. He brought his mother along to the hill sta­tion and took a house on rent for her in the city. But she did not find its cold cli­mate suit­able. Ul­ti­mately, he had to leave her with

his un­cle and aunt at his an­ces­tral house in Ghazi­abad. Vinod’s first post­ing as As­sis­tant Col­lec­tor was in Khandwa dis­trict in Mad­hya Pradesh. His Dis­trict Col­lec­tor was PK Lahiri, who later served as Rev­enue Sec­re­tary at the Cen­tre. Dur­ing his train­ing, he was re­quired to make all records of a pat­wari in hand af­ter camp­ing in the vil­lage for 15 days and pick up de­tails of the rev­enue ad­min­is­tra­tion. He also trained un­der var­i­ous dis­trict heads like Su­per­in­ten­dent of Po­lice (SP), Civil Sur­geon, Ex­ec­u­tive En­gi­neer PWD and Dis­trict Judge. In Khandwa, the very first meet­ing he at­tended, called by the Col­lec­tor and the SP with prom­i­nent cit­i­zens, was on how to con­trol eve-teas­ing in the dis­trict. He found it very amus­ing re­cently when Yogi Adityanath gov­ern­ment in Ut­tar Pradesh launched a crack­down on Romeos. “The age-old prob­lem per­sists,” he quips. His next post­ing as Sub Divi­sional Mag­is­trate ( SDM) was in Jaora, a princely state in Rat­lam. He was also a mu­nic­i­pal­ity ad­min­is­tra­tor there and was pro­vided with a rick­ety jeep. More­over, there was not enough bud­get to buy petrol. He had sold off a part of his an­ces­tral prop­erty to buy an am­bas­sador car. In those days, it was very un­usual for an As­sis­tant Col­lec­tor to travel in a per­sonal car. He would travel in his car on the met­alled road and then ride to the vil­lage on a bi­cy­cle ar­ranged by the lo­cal rev­enue of­fi­cials. Once his Col­lec­tor came on a tour to Jaora. While the Col­lec­tor was go­ing around, he no­ticed a va­cant space be­hind Vinod’s of­fice build­ing. The space had a plat­form, un­fin­ished col­umns, weeds and grass all around. He told Vinod to ear­mark the place for con­struc­tion of a town hall. He said the build­ing should also have a bad­minton court. Vinod, how­ever, dis­missed the sug­ges­tion as an imag­i­nary thought. Sub­se­quently, the Col­lec­tor called up one day to in­form Vinod that he had in­vited the State Gov­er­nor to in­au­gu­rate the town hall build­ing and a date for the same had been fixed in Feb­ru­ary. Vinod only had about four months, no bud­get and no en­gi­neer­ing staff to plan and ex­e­cute. “The se­nior most per­son in the mu­nic­i­pal­ity was an Overseer called Om Prakash,” he re­calls. For­tu­nately, Mu­nic­i­pal­ity had ` 70,000 for con­struc­tion of a new mu­nic­i­pal of­fice build­ing. Af­ter re­al­is­ing it would be fu­tile to get the Col­lec­tor change his mind, he, some­how, ar­ranged for the in­au­gu­ra­tion of the con­struc­tion of a build­ing, which would serve as the Mu­nic­i­pal­ity Of­fice and a Town Hall with a cen­tre that could also be used as a bad­minton court. For the Overseer, this was a life­time op­por­tu­nity to show his tal­ents and the mu­nic­i­pal staff was look­ing for­ward to mov­ing out of the ex­ist­ing of­fice build­ing that was quite old and cramped. On D-day, the Gov­er­nor ar­rived to do the hon­ours. But 40-50 urchins fol­lowed the Gov­er­nor’s cav­al­cade to the in­au­gu­ra­tion site. There was some ir­ri­tat­ing dis­tur­bance dur­ing the cer­e­mony from the di­rec­tion of the roof but the func­tion was some­how con­cluded. He was told later on that the urchins had climbed on top and were lean­ing on the walls try­ing to peep into the hall by lift­ing the tent when the Gov­er­nor was un­veil­ing a plaque. “It was an ex­tremely risky sit­u­a­tion. Had the wall col­lapsed the dig­ni­taries would have been griev­ously in­jured and I would have surely been dis­missed from ser­vice,” Vinod re­mem­bers. Luck­ily for him, the Overseer and his team had clutched on to the frag­ile walls to pre­vent any mishap.

IN Jaora it­self, Vinod, then 25, as Sub-Divi­sional Of­fi­cer (SDO), in­spected work of all pat­waris. The in­spec­tion work was usu­ally done un­der a tree sit­ting on a ‘ kha­tia’ (cot) as the pat­wari did not have an of­fice. He found that the lat­ter were not do­ing their work prop­erly. He ended up rep­ri­mand­ing many of them. But when he ad­mon­ished one pat­wari in pub­lic, the lat­ter took him aside, took off his shoe and told him with folded hands. “Please hit me with the shoe here and now as much as you want. But do not scold me in the pub­lic. Here in the vil­lage I rep­re­sent the gov­ern­ment.” Vinod says he learnt a very good les­son and never again cen­sured a sub­or­di­nate pub­licly in his ca­reer. Dur­ing his post­ing at Sar­guja in 1972, Vinod made a shock­ing dis­cov­ery. Then sec­ond-largest dis­trict of MP, Sar­guja, which had a large tribal pop­u­la­tion, was in throes of a cri­sis due to mon­soon fail­ure. Vinod was asked to as­sess the drought sit­u­a­tion and whether and how much com­pen­sa­tion and re­lief should be given to the af­fected pop­u­la­tion. He did ex­ten­sive tour­ing of the dis­trict to gauge dam­age to the crops. Dur­ing one such tour, he dis­cov­ered that the trib­als ate only one meal dur­ing the day. When he asked them when they last had two meals, the trib­als said they had it in 1967 when there was a drought and the gov­ern­ment had

In Khandwa, the very first meet­ing he at­tended, called by the Col­lec­tor and the SP with prom­i­nent cit­i­zens, was on how to con­trol eve-teas­ing in the dis­trict

ar­ranged for lo­cal em­ploy­ment and cheap food­grains. “They were again hop­ing for two meals. I never saw that kind of poverty. It re­mains etched in my mem­ory,” he says. Dur­ing the same post­ing, Vinod re­alised dis­trict ad­min­is­tra­tion did not have enough sup­port from the higher ups in gov­ern­ment to deal with po­lit­i­cally con­nected peo­ple. It so hap­pened that one early morn­ing he found a man weep­ing near his camp of­fice. The eye of the man was ban­daged. When Vinod in­quired about the rea­son, the man told him a lo­cal mus­cle­man, De­vanand, had gouged his eye af­ter he went to the lat­ter to fetch his daugh­ter. De­vanand had taken his daugh­ter away be­cause the man failed to pay for the liquor he had con­sumed on credit. De­vanand was liquor con­trac­tor’s man. When Vinod sum­moned po­lice of­fi­cials, they told him many cases were pend­ing against De­vanand but no­body dared to de­pose against him. He reg­is­tered a case un­der MISA (Main­te­nance of In­ter­nal Se­cu­rity Act; DMs could di­rectly reg­is­ter cases un­der MISA) and De­vanand was placed un­der de­ten­tion. He sent a re­port to the State gov­ern­ment. He says the lo­cal MLA was in ca­hoots with the liquor con­trac­tor and used his con­nec­tions in Bhopal to get MISA de­ten­tion can­celled. An ex­pla­na­tion was sought from Vinod as to why he had in­voked the Act. Sub­se­quently, in an­other mat­ter, he tried to book a vil­lage sarpanch be­cause the lat­ter had cor­nered huge quan­tity of quota sugar and not dis­trib­uted even a grain to the vil­lagers. He says he was sum­moned to Bhopal and re­ceived his trans­fer or­ders be­fore he could im­pose any pun­ish­ment. In a meet­ing with him, the then state Chief Sec­re­tary likened the DM’s role to that of a ‘ ja­madar’ (sweeper) who was sup­posed to clean the main road. Vinod coun­tered this by ask­ing what if the garbage flew on the main road from by­lanes. But he was chided for not be­ing suf­fi­ciently ma­ture in ad­min­is­tra­tion. He found the two cases very ‘dis­heart­en­ing’.

IN 1976, when Vinod was posted as Dis­trict Mag­is­trate in Gwalior, he got to know that Ganesh, a har­i­jan em­ployee of De­fence Sci­ence Lab­o­ra­tory, set him­self on fire and died in a hos­pi­tal later dur­ing the night. In the morn­ing, Dis­trict Su­per­in­ten­dent of Po­lice called him and ex­pressed con­cern about the sit­u­a­tion. The two de­cided to keep a close watch. When the body was handed over af­ter post­mortem, some dis­grun­tled el­e­ments with the son of the de­ceased sat on a dharna in front of the lab gate, kept the body at the cen­tre of the road and re­fused to cre­mate it un­til strong ac­tion was taken against the De­fence Lab Di­rec­tor. A fac­tion of sci­en­tists, who were not get­ting along with the Di­rec­tor, ap­peared to be adding fuel to the fire. Sched­uled Caste as­so­ci­a­tion of the State gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees threat­ened to carry the body in a pro­ces­sion across the city and, af­ter hand­ing over a mem­o­ran­dum to the Col­lec­tor, cre­mate it on a main road. This would have thrown traf­fic in a dis­ar­ray and given am­ple op­por­tu­nity to anti-so­cial el­e­ments to cre­ate mis­chief and es­ca­late it into a ma­jor law and or­der prob­lem. It was the month of June and by af­ter­noon it had be­come un­com­fort­ably hot. A mag­is­te­rial en­quiry into the cir­cum­stances of the death of the per­son had al­ready been or­dered. Ev­ery­one re­alised that it would take some time to be com­pleted. Since Vinod and the SP were present at the spot, the ag­i­ta­tors were told that the pro­posed hand­ing of the mem­o­ran­dum could be achieved at the spot it­self. At one point, Vinod and the SP were asked why they were talk­ing only to the son of the de­ceased. They got a cue and im­me­di­ately got in touch with the widow of the em­ployee. She op­posed the pro­ces­sion and wanted a proper cre­ma­tion at the ear­li­est. Vinod warned the gath­er­ing that the widow was unwell as she had fasted since the morn­ing and if some­thing hap­pened to her, lead­ers of the crowd would be held

Dur­ing one of his post­ings, Vinod re­alised that dis­trict ad­min­is­tra­tion did not get enough sup­port from the higher ups in gov­ern­ment to deal with po­lit­i­cally con­nected peo­ple

re­spon­si­ble. This is how they could dif­fuse a volatile sit­u­a­tion that could have be­come an ugly law and or­der is­sue. It was an ex­er­cise in pa­tience and en­durance and a bat­tle of wits. In 1983, he was ap­pointed Com­mis­sioner (Col­lege Ed­u­ca­tion) in the State. There were 250 col­leges un­der him. Dur­ing one of his tours to the col­leges, the prin­ci­pals com­plained that the col­lege ed­u­ca­tion ad­min­is­tra­tion never replied to their let­ters for grants. When he sought ex­pla­na­tion from the con­cerned of­fi­cials, he was told the ad­min­is­tra­tion had no bud­get for col­leges and that is why it pre­ferred to sit on Prin­ci­pals’ let­ters. He got reg­is­ters pre­pared for the re­ceipt of dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories (seek­ing funds for col­lege build­ing, sports, lab­o­ra­tory, etc.) of let­ters and told the of­fi­cials to an­swer each let­ter. “The let­ters promised that funds would be re­leased as soon as the depart­ment got a bud­getand that their de­mand had been duly reg­is­tered in the rel­e­vant reg­is­ter the se­rial num­ber of which was also com­mu­ni­cated to them. This gave hope to the prin­ci­pals,” he re­calls. This taught him an im­por­tant les­son—in any given sit­u­a­tion, peo­ple would want to be heard and treated re­spect­fully. Moti­lal Vora was then the min­is­ter for higher ed­u­ca­tion. Vora had asked him to in­form what was pos- sible un­der the rules and not to fol­low ev­ery di­rec­tion of his blindly. He devel­oped great re­spect for Vora on this count. Dur­ing this pe­riod, Vora or­dered trans­fer of an As­sis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Chem­istry in Mhow. He sub­se­quently or­dered can­cel­la­tion of the trans­fer but be­fore do­ing that also rec­om­mended trans­fer of 17 other lec­tur­ers in the po­si­tion. When the sev­enth plan for col­lege ed­u­ca­tion was be­ing dis­cussed, Vora called him and sought an ex­pla­na­tion why he did not ex­e­cute his var­i­ous trans­fer or­ders. Vinod told him why he could not have fol­lowed all the rec­om­men­da­tions. Iron­i­cally, while the sev­enth plan was cleared in five min­utes, the min­is­ter took two hours in dis­cussing trans­fer is­sues with him.

IN Oc­to­ber 1999, Vinod was trans­ferred from the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment to be Sec­re­tary, Depart­ment of Tele­com Ser­vices, to over­see cor­po­rati­sa­tion of the depart­ment. Tele­com en­gi­neers op­posed an IAS’s post­ing (be­fore Vaish the seat was al­ways held by an en­gi­neer) as the Sec­re­tary. His trans­fer was can­celled and PS Saran was ap­pointed in his place. On May 31, 2000, af­ter Saran’s re­tire­ment, Vinod was reap­pointed to the same post. Tele­com en­gi­neers were en­raged at this de­ci­sion and de­cided to block his en­try into Sachar Bhawan where his of­fice was lo­cated. Ini­tially, Vinod was to reach at 10.30 am and the tele­com em­ploy­ees, par­tic­u­larly the of­fi­cers, had planned to lie down on the en­try pas­sage. But he reached of­fice at 9.45 am and took charge. There was ma­jor op­po­si­tion to the move. Tele­com en­gi­neers and staff went on na­tion­wide strike. The gov­ern­ment was quite firm and de­ter­mined, but showed will­ing­ness to con­sider fa­vor­ably the rea­son­able de­mands of the em­ploy­ees. Against all hos­til­i­ties, through in­ten­sive di­a­logue and dis­cus­sion with the var­i­ous as­so­ci­a­tions, bulk of the 350,000 em­ploy­ees were per­suaded that their le­git­i­mate in­ter­ests were be­ing pro­tected. It was a her­culean task and re­quired long meet­ings to sat­isfy var­i­ous stake­hold­ers that their griev­ances were be­ing ad­dressed, prepa­ra­tion of elab­o­rate doc­u­men­ta­tion for large num­ber of in­ter-min­is­te­rial meet­ings and the meet­ings of the Group of Min­is­ters con­sti­tuted to steer the progress. Vinod con­sid­ers this as the most chal­leng­ing and trou­ble­some as­sign­ment given to him in his en­tire ca­reer. Ul­ti­mately, cor­po­rati­sa­tion was achieved and Bharat San­char Nigam (BSNL) came into be­ing on Oc­to­ber 1, 2000, the date set by the Prime Min­is­ter’s of­fice. Vinod is­sued the let­ter abol­ish­ing his post of Sec­re­tary, Depart­ment of Tele­com Ser­vices, and he was ap­pointed Sec­re­tary, Min­istry of Labour on the same day. Vinod re­tired from the gov­ern­ment on Jan­uary 31, 2004, from the post of Chair­man, Tele­com Com­mis­sion and Sec­re­tary Tele­com. Later he also served as a mem­ber of Tele­com Dis­pute Set­tle­ment Ap­pel­late Au­thor­ity for three years. Vinod and Kikki Vaish have a son Bharat Vaish and a daugh­ter Yamini.


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